“Singing with Jesus”
Sermon on Matthew 27:45-46
Series on the Seven Last Words from the Cross
The Fourth Word
March 11, 2007
The Rev. J. Curtis Goforth, O.S.L.
Have you ever thumbed through our hymnal? There are obviously a number of hymns in it, but there are other things as well. There is a collection of the liturgies for baptism and communion and other services. There are a number of prayers, creeds, and orders of service for a funeral. There is even a second hymnal in our hymnal at the back. It is called the Psalter. The Psalter is just another way of saying the book of Psalms. In fact, the word “psalm” even means song in Greek. It would be perfectly fitting for us to have named this book in the middle of our Bibles and at the back of our hymnal the book of songs.
And, just like our hymnal, the book of psalms was the hymnal of ancient Israel. It was the hymnal that was in the Temple. And every Sabbath worship service included the singing and chanting of several of these psalms. And there is a psalm for just about every occasion. There are psalms of thanksgiving, there are psalms of praise, there are psalms which plead for forgiveness, there are psalms that were used for the installation of a king, there are happy psalms and there are sad psalms. These sad psalms we call psalms of lament.
But there is one thing I want you to remember, these psalms were not just written down for private devotional reading. That is not to say that they aren’t wonderful for private devotional reading because they are excellent for that. But it is to say that these hymns were used in the context of public worship. These are words meant to be sung in worship, by the gathered community. There are even some psalms that call for there to be a soloist singing one part and the congregation singing a response. The book of Psalms is a very public hymnal.
But this sermon is not about the book of Psalms. It is about the fourth of Jesus’ last words spoken from the cross, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” These words are very difficult for us to hear. They sound almost as though Jesus believes that God the Father has left him alone and empty in his darkest hour. It is troubling to hear Jesus speak these words from the cross. Where was God in that situation? Did God utterly abandon Jesus? Did Jesus lose his faith and feel at the end of his life that he had been forgotten and forsaken? Many preachers have suggested just that. I have heard many sermons on how God had to utterly abandon Jesus in order for him to bear our sins because God somehow can’t tolerate sin. Well, I’m sorry to remind us that we are not the ones that are allowed to put rules onto God about what God can or cannot do or about what God has to do or has to not do. God is not bound by our rules of what we might think he needs to do in a situation—that’s why God is God and we are not.
Was Jesus abandoned by God the Father? Did Jesus lose his faith as he was dying on the cross? These are troubling questions raised by these last words of Jesus on the cross. But I think there is a better explanation.
You see, every time we think about the crucifixion, every time we think about the cross, we think about it in human terms. And in human terms, the cross is the worst and darkest hour of the world. The savior of the world hung from it, bleeding and dying, gasping for breath through the pain that he felt over every inch of his body. The cross is a dreadful thing when we think about it in human terms. But there is another way of thinking about the cross. The cross is not only the darkest and most dreadful event in the history of humanity, it is also the brightest and most glorious thing. Through the cross, through the crucifixion, our dead world was given new life. Through the death of Christ was found the life of the world. I think we too many times see only one side of the cross, the human side, yet we very rarely see the divine side of it.
When we see it through the eyes of heaven, the cross was not only the worst thing to happen, but also the best. Do you remember what I said at the beginning about the book of Psalms being the hymnal of ancient Israel? Do you remember how I said that these words were not written for private devotional reading so much as they were written as songs of praise for the people of God? Well, remember that when you hear these last words of Jesus, “Eli, Eli, lema sabachthani?” “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”
If you turn away from Jesus’ words here in Matthew 27 and turn for a moment to the book of Psalms and find Psalm 22, the first verse reads,
My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?
Why are you so far from helping me, from the words of my groaning?
O my God, I cry by day, but you do not answer;
and by night, but find no rest…
For dogs are all around me;
a company of evildoers encircles me.
My hands and feet have shriveled;
I can count all my bones.
They stare and gloat over me;
they divide my clothes among themselves,
and for my clothing they cast lots…
All the ends of the earth shall remember
and turn to the Lord;
and all the families of the nations
shall worship before him.
For dominion belongs to the Lord,
and he rules over the nations.
To him, indeed, shall all who sleep in the earth bow down;
before him shall bow all who go down to the dust,
and I shall live for him.
Posterity will serve him;
future generations will be told about the Lord,
and proclaim his deliverance to a people yet unborn,
saying that he has done it.
Not only should you hear in this 22nd psalm a number of similarities between Jesus’ life and death, but you should also hear what Jesus is doing in saying these last words, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” Jesus is not telling those who watch him die how forsaken he feels. Jesus is not expressing how he has lost all faith in the midst of this excruciating pain, even though that is where the very word comes from. Literally “ex-cruciating” is Latin and it means “from the cross.” Even though the very word that defines the most intense form of pain comes from the cross, Jesus is not groaning about how terrible it all is for him to be experiencing this!
Rather, Jesus is singing! Jesus is singing a psalm even in the most dreadful moment. Jesus is not destitute. Jesus is not forsaken. The only reason we might think so is because we just don’t know the Bible. If we took the time to know the songs of Israel, we would instantly recognize how Jesus is singing on the cross. If we know the book of Psalms, gone are the questions of “Has Jesus lost his faith?” and “Has God forsaken Jesus?” We begin to see that Jesus knows what is happening in that dark hour and he welcomes it with praise! Can there be any stronger image of the power of Jesus than the one of him singing from the cross? The next time you find yourself in a dark situation and feel forsaken, try singing with Jesus. In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.